As previously reported, the “map of lies” billboard was up for one day in January in Ellerslie, Auckland. That billboard was removed after the media company, Ad-Vantage Media, understood the misleading nature of the maps. At the time, the Advertising Standards Authority said the removal of the sign was “the best outcome we could hope for.”
Since then, the billboard has reappeared in the Auckland CBD. Unlike Ad-Vantage, Go Media refused to remove the billboard. The ASA has now ruled that the lies are ‘robust opinion’ and allowable because:
…when it comes to strong political perspectives, there are no absolute truth or lies, just political standpoints.”NZ Advertising Standards Authority decision 11/085
It is hard to see how historical facts and geographic truths can be considered just a standpoint. The ASA does acknowledge that there is a difference between opinion and fact; Rule 11 of the ASA Code of Ethics requires that “opinion should be clearly distinguishable from factual information”. Rule 2 of the ASA Code also makes it clear that advertisements cannot mislead:
Advertisements should not contain any statement or visual presentation or create an overall impression which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive, is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, makes false and misleading representation, abuses the trust of the consumer or exploits his/her lack of experience or knowledge”ASA Code of Ethics
The recent ASA decision makes a mockery of the Code. The billboard falsely states that land in 1947 was under Arab-Palestinian control. This is untrue; it was under British control as part of the Mandate of Palestine. One need not be a professional to understand this lie. One need not even be an amateur cartographer or historian. Just like it would be false to claim that New Zealand were ever under the rule of Jordanians, it is false to say that 1947 British Mandate Palestine was under Arab control.
There are a number of other misleading impressions contained in the maps which have been debunked in many places.
The ASA decision suggests that anyone can create an advertisement that is factually false or misleading as long as they claim it is a “political perspective” because that absolves all need for “absolute truths”. The ASA does not, however, apply this principle to all political perspectives; there have been some recent complaints upheld against misleading ads with respect to water fluoridation. However, if you want to rewrite history and distort the geographical facts, the ASA is happy to accomodate it as “robust opinion”.
The ASA decision is out of step with other industry self-regulatory bodies around the world. Last year, MSNBC apologised for using the maps, saying they were “not factually correct”. The Toronto Transit Commission rejected advertisements using the maps because they were found to be “inaccurate or misleading”. McGraw Hill has also stopped publication and will destroy books that contain the misleading maps because, in their words:
As soon as we learned about the concerns with [the maps], we placed sales of the book on hold and immediately initiated an academic review. The review determined that the map did not meet our academic standards.”McGraw Hill
Despite the claim of the advertiser, the Palestinian Human Rights Campaign (PHRC), that “there is no consequence of the advertising”, such inaccuracy is dangerous. The intent of the maps is clear: to falsely demonstrate an “ethnic cleansing” that did not occur, one perpetrated by the “colonizer” Jews upon “indigenous” Arabs. This is history revisionism that throws kerosene on a fire and perpetuates lies that are used to delegitimise the State of Israel.
Similar distortions have been correlated with anti-Semitic attacks on university campuses and as David Zwartz, of the New Zealand Jewish Council, has said “The New Zealand Jewish community regularly suffers increased backlash when there is public misrepresentation of the situation in Israel.”
In response to the complaint, the PHRC (led by Leslie and Marian Bravery), tried to suggest the ASA had no jurisdiction, arguing that the ASA should never uphold a complaint against Rule 2 of their Code of Ethics when they wrote:
If the ASA were to uphold the complaint, the ASA would in fact be acting as sensor [sic], a roll [sic] I am sure it would not easily embrace.”Palestinian Human Rights Campaign
PHRC representatives also made vague references to “different truths”, and tried to claim that “nothing can be substantiated”. The PHRC also suggested the complainants were attempting to shut down free speech, ignoring the distinction between legitimate opinion, however extreme, and falsehoods or misleading advertising. They wrote:
…the complaint is not so much concerned with the accuracy of the message, it is message [sic] itself that they are objecting to… whether the message on the billboard is right or wrong, the Palestinian human rights campaign organisation [sic] have the right to say it…”Palestinian Human Rights Campaign
A democracy should allow for free speech and it is most concerning when we see it being shut down, especially on university campuses. It is in fact these principles of democracy and freedom that the State of Israel was founded upon and continues to practice today. Unlike most countries in the Middle East, Israel protects free speech and freedom of expression.
However, when there is a Code of Ethics for advertisements and an Authority committed to ensuring certain standards are met, we expect that the codes are adhered to. Freedom of speech does not extend to allowing consumers to be mislead with incorrect facts. This decision begs the question: if the ASA refuses to enforce its own rules, what is there for?
The ASA concluded that “the advertisement did not present opinion as fact as it was clearly presented from a particular perspective and met the provisions of robust opinion”. If you are advocating for a particular opinion and asking people who see your billboard to share it, is it right that you can induce them to do so with lies and those lies should be protected as free speech? And if you have to resort to lies to do so, what kind of message do you have in the first place?
The billboard involved a false comparison between two misleading maps. Maps are apparently no longer fact, but opinion. Next time you go to the library, don’t look for an atlas in the reference section. You will find it as political commentary, or more likely, in the fiction section.
Please share the images below or one above to counter the lies spread by PHRC.